Two knuckleheads install a Skinz ARC kit
Two regular ol’ meatheads install the Skinz ARC with only a pair of vise-grips, a rubber mallet, and grim determination.
SKINZ ARC — WHAT IS IT?
There is a lot of buzz out there about the new ARC product from Skinz. For those who don’t know much about it, it is the first of its kind—an adjustable remote coupling for the rear suspension that can be operated on the fly. Very cool.
At first I didn’t know much about how the product works, and subsequently why it is such a progressive product for mountain riding. So I did a little research.
The long and short of it is that sleds with stock rear suspensions work well for sidehilling and boondocking, but aren’t ideal when it comes to climbing. The reason for this is that the independent action of the two rear suspensions in the skid can cause the skis to lift in climbing situations, resulting in the rider having less control over the sled and less track on snow.
Hillclimbers have used coupling blocks for years to eliminate this problem. They work by “coupling” the rear suspensions—making them work in conjunction to keep the skis on the ground. The drawback to coupling blocks is that you have to stop your sled, adjust the blocks to a coupled setting to climb, then hop back on and ride. When you get to the top, you will need to get off again and uncouple your suspensions so that the sled will handle nicely in all other riding situations like you’ve come to expect from your stock setup. The problem is that modern freeriding sledders don’t want to be stopping all the time—they want to keep moving, making fluid transitions from boondocking to climbing and back again.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have the ability to (un)couple your suspensions on-the-go, to make the most of every riding situation without having to stop all the time? Hence the development of the ARC system. With it, you can more easily make that crucial turn in the trees and get headed uphill in control with a simple click of the thumb lever, without worrying about stopping and losing your momentum.
Now that we know more about ARC, we thought we’d find out what it takes to install the system. Skinz says that it is an “easy installation”, but I had a feeling that their interpretation of “easy” might be a little skewed, given that they are responsible for engineering and building the kits.
Also, most sledders don’t own a shop with gleaming checkerboard floors and rows of immaculate tool-filled chests like you see in the Skinz and other manufacturers’ product videos. And most don’t have the mechanical knowledge gained by tinkering with aftermarket sled parts all day—we have regular jobs. So we wanted to simulate a real-life installation scenario as much as possible, to find out how hard it would be and how long it would take Joe Sledder to complete.
I enlisted my good friend Dan to help me out. Dan doesn’t know that much about sleds, but he is a handy guy and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. I’m an avid sledder, but my old man—a heavy-duty mechanic—was too busy mixing rum and cokes to teach me much about turning wrenches. So between the two of us, we set out to tackle the job with a “can do” attitude and a hodge-podge of tools.
We opened the box, and voilà! all of the parts were there, neatly wrapped and separated. The instructions consist of several pages of step-by-step advice, along with excellent colour photographs illustrating the various stages of the installation process. The documentation suggests pre-reading the instructions at least twice before starting the installation—advice that we promptly ignored. What did you expect? We were trying to keep it real after all.
For the installation, we “borrowed” a 2014 Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited 162. We figured the guy who owns it could use all the help he can get, and probably wouldn’t mind too much if we made a little modification to his ride. Surprise!
Since we wanted to replicate a real-world scenario, we pulled this dusty old socket set out from behind the seat of Dan’s F-150. As you can see, it’s been bounced up and down a few logging roads, and there are more than a few sockets missing. Classic.
Dan went to work on the body panels, while I headed to the fridge for a couple of cold ones. Right away we discovered a deficit in our toolkit—a missing “star-nose” driver was required to get some of the body panels off. After some rummaging about, Dan found the right bit in his glovebox and we were back in action.
It didn’t take too long to get the plastics off, which might not have been entirely necessary but definitely made routing the cable housing a little easier down the road. Plus the sled looked like we were really doing some serious work on it. We’re mechanics now! High five!
With the body panels off, it was time to elevate the rear of the sled, which took the weight off the suspension. It didn’t say anything about this step in the instructions, but again, it really made us feel like we were really digging in deep here.
We didn’t have a chain-hoist on hand, so instead we implemented this old climbing rope that I used to summit the gravel pit behind the Husky station back in ’93.
With the tunnel suspended, the rear scissor bracket and cross brace could be extracted with little effort. At this point I got nasty old grease all over my Budweiser can, forcing me to chug the rest and reload. Budweisers down — 1.
While I headed back to the fridge, Dan lubed up the new aluminum rod and put the new lower scissor in place.
For the rear shock mount, we had to drill new holes in the rails for a mounting bracket, which would have been no problem if half the bits in our drill kit weren’t broken. Of course the one we needed was snapped, so we used a smaller one with a “semi-circular swirling motion” to get the hole the right size. Fortunately the other holes for the mounting bracket lined up with existing holes in the rail, and we were on our way forward once again.
Next up was to route the cable housing. This step wasn’t too involved, although we had to be careful to leave enough slack for proper operation of the shock actuator though the entire range of movement of the suspension and scissor bracket. We used a bunch of tie straps to secure the cable housing, which thankfully were included in the kit. Having removed the body panels earlier made this step less frustrating, which was good because we were now on our third beer at this stage and coming around to the “that’s good enough” way of thinking.
Then it was time to install the shock. We set it for a quick rebound, which is required in this application. The shock came with no air in it, making for a quick and easy install.
When it came time to mount the control lever, we hit a bit of a speedbump. To make room for it, we had to move the brake lever assembly and control switches, which required allen wrenches that we didn’t have. So while Dan ran to Napa, I smashed another brewski. Budweiser count — 4.
When we finally loosened and moved the stock controls, installation of the ARC lever was once again going smoothly—until Dan dropped a screw into the engine compartment and I called him an idiot. We wrestled on the floor until he made me cry “uncle” with a Crossface Crippler, then we hugged it out and had another beer and a smoke while we caught our breath. Lacking one of those handy extendable magnet sticks, Dan had to jam his little girly hands in there until he could just reach the screw.
With the lever installed and all the controls back in place, the final step was to feed the cable through the housing and snug it to the shock actuator with a set screw. It took us a bit of wiggling to get the cable snug, but once that was done everything was looking good. The final step was to pump the recommended 15-30 psi of air into the shock, after which the lever and actuator worked flawlessly.
PS Our friend later discovered when he tried to take his sled for a ride that, in fact, the final step should have been to re-tension the track! Oops!
It turns out that installing the ARC system is no big deal. Most anyone with basic mechanical skills and a modest toolkit should be able to do the job. All told, it took two knuckleheads around 3.5 hours to complete, including smashing the better part of a case of beer and two trips to the auto store for tools that most sledders probably have on hand, but not us. Also, since the sled didn’t belong to either of us, we wanted to do a nice job, so we took our time with fitment and finish.
Now all that remains is to try it out! Stay tuned.
– Patrick Garbutt